If you’re going to coach the swimming team, at some point you’re going to have to get in the water
The above quote is from the person who coined the phrase “No-Email” back in… the day. Seriously, you’ll have to do your own research if you want to know exactly when #NoEmail was started. Or ask him, his name is Paul Jones. ‘The Real Paul Jones’ in fact and you can find him on the internet in various places – he blogs here and tweets here and you can listen to him being a real life human being and talking about his #NoEmail journey here:
Can you really get results through #NoEmail?
Paul and other good folk I’ve been hanging out with online, have been inspiring me to practice methods of reducing my use and dependence on email. I’ve been experiencing the benefits of this and blogging about my journey towards a Life Without Email in a couple of previous posts here and here.
The benefits as I see them are more than the transactional / statistical evidence that my email activity has reduced; it’s more about the quality of interactions that I now feel I’m having with colleagues has changed – and the amount of time I have available to do work that I think of as ‘real work’ has increased.
But for those statisticians out there, you’re welcome to scrutinise my results (and ask questions of course). I’d suggest you try to avoid comparing yourself to my average ‘numbers’ of Sent emails and thinking:
‘wow, he has never really had a problem – I send like, 200 emails a day!’
“wow, he hasn’t made any progress at all; I send way less than that and I’m not even trying!’
The point is, it’s going down…
How to get started
The thing that finally triggered me into getting started in earnest, was Paul’s comment above. I think I had been moaning about email for so long I’d disengaged with the part of myself that realised I could take action.
The story I had been telling myself was that it was “too hard”; that there was “no point when everyone else uses email anyway”; and “how the hell am I going to have any influence in changing the behaviours of 5000+ employees in my email soaked organisation, huh?”
Then I read Paul’s quote. And I realised I didn’t have to influence the behaviour of 5000 people. I just had to influence my own.
As the title of this post promises, I’m going to open up a list of my Top Ten Tips to help you get started with a #NoEmail approach and an easier and better life at work. I’m going to delve into the detail of each Tip in future posts, starting with No. 1 in this post…
I have to admit these ideas are not all mine – all of them have been tried and tested by others who have inspired me and influenced me, like Paul Jones, Luis Suarez and Claire Burge, to name but a few.
But the ‘list’ is something I’ve conjured up. It came out of a desire to note down the things that I tried out first and really helped me get a handle on what I could actively, practically do, without relying on anyone else to change. This, for me, is the most important thing. If I’d waited around for the conditions to be perfect to make a behaviour change, I could have waited forever.
It is that simple… one email at a time, I can change how I work. And when I change the way i work, I’m changing the way other people work with me. So, so simple. A ‘Zen Slap‘ moment.
So, how to get in the water…
Accept You Have A Problem
Stop Sending Emails
Stop Checking for Emails
Start Conversations In Other Worlds
“Email is where knowledge goes to die” (or: Stop Filing Everything)
Reduce your BACN
Stop Reacting, Start Responding
Help Others With Their Work
Shout “NoEmail” from the hilltops!
And, as promised, I’m going to start this series with unpacking…
Number 1: Accept You Have A Problem!
Email is an addiction. Not necessarily yours, but society’s.
The user (society or you) needs to have a certain amount of it just to maintain a normal life. Taking email away from the user would cause a big reaction. Perhaps it could be perceived as harmful to withdraw from its use (to you, your organisation or society’s wellbeing). After all, how could society, or business, or you, function effectively without using it? Work just wouldn’t get done, right?
And like all addictions, some people and businesses over-use emails. It becomes a serious habit. The daily activity of an organisation (or you) becomes based around the need to get work done by processing more and more emails. And the processes an organisation uses get built around the email functionality so that authorisation, approval, consent checking, collaboration, audit trails, commendation, networking, project management and so on, all get hooked into the email loop.
Nothing, but nothing happens without email. And while no organisation would openly admit to running their business via email, secretly, behind closed doors, this is what’s happening all over the world.
Now, I’m not saying email is as bad for your health as some very addictive substances and I’m not using the analogy in order to belittle the plight of those who are addicted to them. I use it to demonstrate a point. There are parallels in email use to addictive behaviours and the results are not good, for you or your business. And like most (if not all) addictions, beating it starts with accepting that there is a problem.
So let’s try out a few things that could potentially be accepted!..
- Accept that email has all kinds of inherent problems that you know are driving you just a little off the rails.. that there’s too much of it. That your organisation actually employs people to manage it on your, or others’ behalf. That you don’t always get a response. That you spend an inordinate amount of time processing it.
- Accept that it interrupts your day and demands your attention when you’d rather be doing Something Else. When it would be better and more productive for you to be doing Something Else. And that sometimes you feel like you never get to the Something Else because you’re too busy managing your Inbox.
- Accept that in some way, email is a crutch for you. As your Inbox fills up it somehow influences you and tells you what to do and when to do it… and this sometimes feels nice. There’s some enjoyment in the methodical process of keeping your inbox organised; reading, filing, deleting, forwarding, replying, flagging, task creation… and again, and again and again. The structure of the process is like a comfy chair. It keeps you nice and secure. You know exactly what you’re doing with email – its management requires adherance to a strict set of rules, cultural practices and norms which everybody appears to play by. Work happens.
- Accept also, that there are other ways to get work done, which might actually be better for you and your organisation, if only you could tip the balance…
There. That wasn’t so hard. So, if you feel comfortable enough, why not try on these acceptances for size!…
- Accept that when you get back from holiday, you secretly enjoy bragging about how many emails you received while you were away. In fact, a day catching up on emails is far easier than talking to anyone or doing any real work. You kinda like the fact you don’t have to ‘think’ too hard on your first day back.
- Accept that email is a perfect way to keep secrets from others and you like to use this to keep certain people in their place by BCC-ing some and not others and CC-ing others and not some, and putting a few special people in the ‘To’ field and hundreds (if not thousands) of your colleagues in a field somewhere far, far away, because they’re not included at all; because they weren’t important enough to receive the information in this beautifully crafted email you’re sending.
- Accept that email is a perfect way for you to play out your insecurities; because it would not be right if there was no audit trail of the conversation you just had. Because you don’t trust that people will do what you asked and you don’t trust yourself to remember what was said. And, like I nearly dared to say, you are an insecure human being.
- Accept that you delegate tasks by email and that this probably doesn’t work that well. No one ever trained you to delegate by email – but you do it all the time, because if you do it buys you more time; because hot damn you can do without actually progressing that piece of work ‘today‘ (and you know the recipient is on leave and this issue will park just fine until they get back).
- Accept that you really really enjoy putting a long technical explanatory email together that you’re going to have to send to a lot of people and that you often think this is the best way to communicate your idea or plan to more than five people rather than phone them individually or set up a meeting, cause they’re expensive time wasting methods… right?
- Accept that you don’t actually want to speak to the other people because sometimes you’re a bit of an introvert and email feels easier to get your thoughts down than shooting from the hip in a phone or face to face conversation.
Phew. I feel quite exhausted.
Of course, I’m not really talking about you. These are all things which I accepted for myself. Perhaps some will ring true for you, perhaps not (I’d be interested to know!). Either way, chances are if you got this far in this post, then something has sparked your interest.
Something has got you to the end of this without giving up and that’s because you know there’s something rotten in the state of our communication.
And the only person who can do anything about it – is YOU!